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Madden Legislation To Require Signage Informing Drivers Of State Law Prohibiting Texting While Driving Clears Committee

Measure Designated As “Nikki’s Law” In Memory of Washington Twp Resident

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Fred H. Madden that would require signage informing drivers of the law that prohibits texting while driving was unanimously approved today by the Senate Transportation Committee.

“In an effort to combat distracted driving, the Legislature has done extensive work to strengthen laws and penalties against offenders of texting while driving. However, motorists continue to use their cell phone behind the wheel, which puts themselves and others on the road at risk,” said Madden, D-Gloucester and Camden. “With tragedies occurring every day, it is clear that more needs to be done to educate the public about the serious and often fatal consequences of texting and driving. These signs will serve as a visual reminder for all drivers to put down their phone while driving and pay attention to the road.”

The bill has been designated as “Nikki’s Law,” in memory of Nikki Kellenyi from Washington Township, Gloucester County, who at the age of 18 who tragically died in an automobile accident in 2012. The investigation into the crash is ongoing; however, media reports have indicated that distracted driving is believed to have played a role.

Under the bill, S-2406, the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation, in consultation with the Director of Division of Highway and Traffic Safety, would be required to erect appropriate signs throughout the state informing motorists that texting while driving is prohibited. Under current state law, it is unlawful to send a text message via a wireless telephone or electronic communication device when operating a moving motor vehicle on a public road or highway.

“Those who text while driving may believe their behavior is harmless. But the fact is that it only takes a moment of distraction for a tragic accident to occur,” said Senator Madden. “We have to continue to work to ensure that drivers understand the harm they can cause when they are inattentive behind the wheel. This measure is part of our effort to raise awareness and improve safety on our roads.”

In December 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board called for a nationwide ban on the use of cell phones and text messaging devices while driving. According to the National Highway Safety Administration, distracted driving, including sending text messages resulted in 16 percent of all fatal crashes (5,474 deaths) and 20 percent of the crashes that caused injury (448,000) in 2009. Research on distracted driving reveals that of those killed in distracted driving related crashes, the under-20 age group had the greatest proportion of distracted drivers out of all age groups.

In addition, a study by the American Journal of Public Health noted that, if not for texting while driving, the number of deaths caused by distracted driving would have dropped every year from 2002 to 2007, from 4,611 deaths nationwide in 2001 to 1,925 in 2007. Instead, the study found a 19 percent increase in auto fatalities for every 1 million additional cell phone subscribers, and an increase to 5,870 deaths caused in 2008 due to distracted driving.

“We have seen too many tragedies occur on our roadways resulting from distracted driving. Unfortunately, texting while driving is becoming far too common for young people and adults alike. By engaging in this activity, these individuals are posing a dangerous risk to themselves, their passengers and to others traveling the roads,” said Madden. “While we have increased penalties for texting while behind the wheel, it is also important that we educate the public about the consequences of their actions. A reminder to drivers that their activity is illegal may be enough to prompt them to stop texting and focus on the road.”

Senator Madden has been a leading advocate in the Legislature for raising awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. Senator Madden also sponsored S-69 – a bill that would implement a graduated penalty structure for repeat offenders who violate the state’s hands-free cell phone law more than once in a ten-year period. In addition, this bill would direct 50 percent of the penalty fines into a public education program to inform drivers about dangers of texting while driving. S-69 received final legislative approval last week and currently awaits action from the governor.

S-2406 now heads to the Senate floor.